Zenko Suzuki

Self-effacing Japanese prime minister

Zenko Suzuki, who served as Prime Minister of Japan from 1980 to 1982, was perhaps the epitome of the bland post-war Japanese leader at the mercy of wider political forces over which he had little control.



Zenko Suzuki, politician: born Yamada, Japan 11 January 1911; Prime Minister of Japan 1980-82; married (one son, three daughters); died Tokyo 19 July 2004.



Zenko Suzuki, who served as Prime Minister of Japan from 1980 to 1982, was perhaps the epitome of the bland post-war Japanese leader at the mercy of wider political forces over which he had little control.

Remembered mainly for a series of derogatory monikers, including "The Tape-Recorder" for his habit of reciting pre-learned answers (provided by bureaucrats) off by heart at press conferences, Suzuki surprised most commentators when he assumed the country's top political job in July 1980 after a lifetime of anonymous service within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which he helped establish after the Second World War.

Born in 1911 in Yamada, on the north-west coast of Japan, Suzuki followed his father into the fisheries industry, which exempted him from military service until late in the war. Between 1947 and 1980 he had served 13 times in the Japanese parliament and a record 10 terms as chairman of the LDP executive council, and it was his self-effacing ability smoothly to mediate between warring factions without offending anyone that earned him the support of the political giant Kakuei Tanaka. The embodiment of Japan's money politics, Tanaka had fallen from power in 1976 following a bribery scandal involving the Lockheed Company, but tirelessly worked behind the scenes to expand his influence within the LDP, eventually allowing him to propel Suzuki into the premiership after the death of Masayoshi Ohira in 1980.

It was a perfect illustration of the type of unacknowledged power that percolated through post-war Japanese politics and Suzuki suffered from the widespread resentment it caused. Largely ignored by the bureaucrats that actually run policy in Japan, and lampooned in the press for his apparent lack of intellect and inability to make political decisions, Suzuki then made a number of serious foreign policy errors.

During a meeting with the newly elected US President Ronald Reagan in 1981, the Prime Minister appeared unable to grasp the intricacies of the Japan-US security alliance, embarrassing Japan and reinforcing the image of a man out of his depth. And Suzuki is still blamed for poisoning relations with China for years after failing to diffuse a crisis over history textbooks that whitewashed Japan's role in the Second World War.

Suzuki struggled on through these disasters as well as a slumping economy brought on by the Reagan reforms of the early 1980s, before falling on his sword in November 1982, clearing the path for the much more muscular premiership of Yasuhiro Nakasone (another Tanaka protégé), who is credited with establishing closer ties with the US and China and repairing the damage Suzuki caused.

Zenko Suzuki's political legacy, however, lives on in his son, Shunichi Suzuki, who, as Japan's new environment minister, heads a lobby of pro-whaling lawmakers in the LDP that wants to end a 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling.

David McNeill

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Data Specialist

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are the go-to company for ...

Recruitment Genius: Search Marketing Specialist - PPC / SEO

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the UK's leadin...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This caravan dealership are currently recruiti...

Day In a Page

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test